Kristin Kontrol presents Color + The Kids at Girlschool 2018

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When an acquaintance named Kristin asked me if I knew any little kids that would want to play a benefit show with her, it wasn’t totally shocking. We had mutual friends, I had written an article about Sandy from her old band Dum Dum Girls, and I’d seen the group many times–a bunch of them with my daughter and two nieces. But the idea of gathering random children and getting them ready to play Anna Bulbrook’s Girlschool festival at venue like the Bootleg in just two weeks was ridiculous. And cool. Of course, Wendy and I volunteered our 9-year-old daughter who goes to a ton of shows for her age and suggested our 7- and 11-year-old nieces who not only love music but also have a music studio in their backyard that my brother-in-law operates. Everything lined up: the cousins joined forces and Carlos became a second coach. My sister Angelyn, an organizer.

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Kristin posted on social media to recruit more kids and, soon enough, there were nine or ten children in the mix. Some had played instruments before, but none were prodigies or had experience being in a band. Following an introductory get-together and the first official practice, my sister and I independently invited a 13-year-old friend of our girls who could play some guitar, as well as a 4-year-old dancer with gusto, and the lineup was complete.

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After only four practices plus a few extra sessions the side, the kids not only pulled off the set of one Dum Dums song and some cool covers (with help from Kristin and Carlos) but according to the LA Times were show stealers. Kristin inviting Bethany and Bobb from Best Coast and Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to be special guests didn’t hurt, but it was also a big risk for her to use those favors. What if the band of children totally stunk? They didn’t and the crowd loved it. Especially us parents who saw the band start off like the Shaggs trying to figure out Velvet Underground jams.

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Right on the heels of Kristin Kontrol presents Color + The Kids at Girlschool 2018, I decided to ask my new friend some questions about the experience, and followed up with Anna from Girlschool as well.

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MW: After choosing not to play a proper Kristin Kontrol set for the Girlschool festival, what inspired you to get a band of random kids to play with just a couple of weeks to prepare? That was an insane idea.
KK: Ha! I had a gut feeling pulling the spotlight off myself was the way to go. Sometimes you find yourself in a weird transitional spot and it just didn’t feel like the right use of my energy to try and cobble together a KK lineup/set. I love kids and it seemed much closer to the nature of Girlschool to work with them.

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MW: Us parents were blown away by how well you handled kids with minimal to no experience being in bands. Are you practiced in teaching children, relaxation techniques, or conflict resolution? Some of those kids were real divas!
KK: I honestly think I had a bit of a buffer because the parents and kids revered me a little more than just a teacher. But both my parents were public school teachers, and my mom actually taught parent education and early childhood development stuff, so I had a really great role model my whole life as well as being a pretty mellow/calming person. I was super impressed with the kids though on their own merit, and if any little issue arose, having the parents at rehearsal was so helpful in that I didn’t really have to occupy a role too much outside of “weird fun art aunt” …

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MW: Anna, what was your response to Kristin wanting to play with random children after declining to play a solo set?

AB: I thought it was tits-on. Perfectly in the spirit of Girlschool. Loved it.

MW: If you had a master plan in your head, how closely did reality follow it? Maybe you just went for it with a positive outlook?
KK: Definitely more PMA than game plan initially. But I took the time to think about it simply and determine the key goals, which essentially were successfully playing a few songs and having fun doing so, which meant picking songs that were accessible both skill and recognition wise. We definitely sounded like The Shaggs at our first rehearsal, so I tried to reassess after that, scaled back the songs, took some individual time with a few of the beginners, and voila!

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MW: Anna, did she present a detailed vision or was it vague? What were you expecting and how did the actual show compare to that?

AB: I knew it would be cute, and fun for the kids—but I was mostly hoping that the kids would have that alchemic “lift-off” reaction to performing. The experience of performing, when it connects for you as the performer, especially as a *band,* is like no other. And they sure as hell did. The whole thing was more fun, more inspiring, and more life-giving than I had hoped. People felt it.

MW: The kids got so much out of the experience, and we parents loved supporting it. Kristin, I’m wondering what, if anything, you got out of it?
KK: “Must be the colors and the kids that keep my alive, cuz the music is boring me to death.”

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Sometimes, Wendy and I try to figure out how our daughter gets to do stuff like be in a band with Kristin, play with Bethany and Bobb, and sing with Karen. (And Eloise accompanied Lois less than a week before!) It’s true that I encountered all of the musicians through the magazine we helped make years ago, and that might have had tilted the odds for us, but each of our decisions leads to the opportunities we get–and then it’s up to us to take them. What if I never told my friend Eric that I also wanted to make a zine about Asian stuff or Wendy (just out of art school and not my girlfriend or wife yet) never decided to spend nights and weekends designing it? What if Wendy and I never organized that first Save Music in Chinatown benefit concert for our daughter’s school even though we had no experience or business doing so? What if we quit right afterward because it was too much work? What if I told Kristin that we were too busy with our next event to take part in hers? Sometimes, you just have to go for it and those actions can affect a kid’s future as much as a cool benefit like Girlschool, which pushes for equality and empowerment in music and culture, can inspire it.

Keep in touch with Kristin at twitter.com/kristinkontrol and keep an eye on girlschoolla.com, too. Then make time to do things that are fun and important to you!

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Save Music in Chinatown 10 recap with SISU, Carsick Cars, Chui Wan, and Alpine Decline

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I was even more stressed out than usual about our tenth Save Music in Chinatown show. Was the previous evening’s Long Beach gig, which I also helped set up, going to turn out alright for the bands that were coming all the way from Beijing? Wasn’t it going to be extra difficult for the musicians, helpers, and attendees to make it to the Grand Star with Ciclavia happening on the same date that we set way back in the spring?

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It was less convenient getting to the Grand Star and parking cost twice as much, but everything turned out fine. Actually, excellent.

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Really, how could those who made it to the show not be blown away by the raw chemistry of the Alpine Decline duo, soaring and psychedelic musicianship of Chui Wan, or buzzsaw riffs of the power trio Carsick Cars? The urgency and excitement of a new generation of artists who are out of their minds and inspired by the entire history of rock being unloaded on China all at once?

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I was first introduced to Carsick Cars along with P.K.14 way back in 2007 when I stalked them for a magazine article and have been obsessed with Beijing’s underground music scene ever since. How amazing to see them in Chinatown.

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And then there were the dark, swirling sounds of SISU. I became familiar with the band when I interviewed Sandy as one of the Dum Dum Girls and became a fan of her main musical outlet as well as a friend.

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At first, SISU agreed to come out of seclusion to play as a stripped-down version for the cause but it wound up being a full-on headlining set with all four members along with a projector and fog machine!

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And then they played a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl,” arranging for a handful of kids including Eloise and her cousins to go onstage and sing backup. Wow.

For my favorite bands to play all-ages matinee fund raisers to support the unfunded music program at my daughter’s public elementary school in Chinatown is surreal. And for us to be embarking on our fourth year of shows is really incredible. We had no experience when we started this project and have gotten by only with the help of so many supporters.

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There are awesome bands, old friends and new friends, all of my family and so many community members, killer bake sale, and super cool raffle to make it a completely unique and excellent afternoon. But even better is the community that has grown over the years. To not only raise money and awareness to help kids but also create a scene in Chinatown is something we never anticipated and are always humbled by.

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Thanks to everyone who makes our shows possible, building on the punk rock tradition of the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s, and helping the largely underserved kids who live in Chinatown today. It not only gives them access to music education and a creative outlet, but empowers them with the DIY aesthetic.

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The next Save Music in Chinatown all-ages matinee will take place in January or February. Follow this blog or like facebook.com/SaveMusicInChinatown for news.

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See you there!